LOS ANGELES — Los Angeles Kings President/General Manager Dean Lombardi held another one of his patented, epic media conference calls on June 2, 2015, and during that call, he made it crystal-clear that he is expecting much more next season from his top three players, Drew Doughty, Anze Kopitar and Jonathan Quick.
Lombardi stressed that the challenge begins with their conditioning.
“I’m expecting these three to come back—they’ve never been at the top of our list, in terms of conditioning, and I think that’s going to be the first step for these guys, [for them] to say, ‘OK, it’s my turn,’” said Lombardi. “I think our top players have a chance now to become our best conditioned players. I think any great team—and you can look at the [Nicklas] Lidstroms, the [Steve] Yzermans, the [Tom] Bradys, all those teams, Kobe Bryant—the top players set the mark. It’s not the coach or anybody that gets in their ear. They show up in the top condition, ready to go for a full 82 games.”
“It’s been hard because we’ve been playing until June,” added Lombardi. “Well, this time there’s no excuse. It’s a marvelous opportunity for our top players to, in fact, take over that room, and they start by doing that, becoming the best they can be, and I think they will.”
“There’s no doubt in my mind about what guys like Kopitar and Quick and Doughty stand for, and hopefully, this is an awakening. It’s no fun watching the playoffs. In the long run, we could benefit from this.”
Lombardi pointed to veteran defenseman Robyn Regehr, who retired at the end of the season, as an example for them, and other players, to follow.
If this had all happened and our core was averaging 34 years old or something, you’d go, “holy smokes.” But wait a minute here. Maybe that’s a part of it, too. Maybe having that success with so many young players might’ve been a product here, that handling success can be as difficult as handling failure.
Let’s face it, we didn’t handle it. Now we’ve got a marvelous opportunity with this group to learn from it and make us stronger. If we approach it like that, it could be an even stronger group. — Dean Lombardi
“As far as Robyn, we all know how important those [older veterans] were to the process,” Lombardi noted. “But there’s also a time for—there’s enormous growth potential in Kopitar, Doughty, Quick, [Jeff] Carter, [Jake] Muzzin, and all these kids. They’ve seen how Robyn Regehr conducted himself. Now, it’s your turn, and no doubt, it’s time.”
“That’s essentially where we’ve wanted to get, [where] your best players are your hardest workers, and they take over the room,” Lombardi added. “They have a chance to do that with Stanley Cups under their belts. They’re still growing, as human beings, but deep down, they’re all good kids. They’re not perfect, but I’m expecting big things out of those three and a number of others in that room.”
Lombardi indicated that even the younger players could step up and take on more of a leadership role.
“That’s the one thing about this group,” he noted. “Like I said, people forget how young they are. But they’re not young and inexperienced. They’ve been to the conference finals three times. That’s all experience is. We’re incredibly fortunate to have that many players, 27 and under, who’ve been through those wars.”
“In a way, they are veterans,” he added. “It’s just that don’t have the mileage usually associated [with them], which is exciting for us.”
In the context of what went wrong for the Kings in the 2014-15 season, the fact that they still have young players with experience from two or three deep playoff runs is huge.
“This season, we were all struggling to find that certain ‘it’ or whatever you want to call it, all year, and when it was over, after Edmonton and Calgary, I think the reality is we got what we deserved, and we have nobody to feel sorry for,” Lombardi explained. “Whatever excuse [we had], how does it feel now? Every time we thought we were going to get out of it because we knew how to win or we had been in big games before, well, that didn’t happen. But now we can learn from this.”
“You’ve heard me say this before,” Lombardi elaborated. “If you look at the cores of teams—if you believe in a core of seven players—you’ve got a core that is intact that’s won two Cups, that’s won ten playoff rounds, and their average age is 26.5. This is a marvelous opportunity for a lot of key players and secondary core guys who’ve won, and are still together, to learn from this and make us better.”
But was all that success too much, too quickly?
“If this had all happened and our core was averaging 34 years old or something, you’d go, ‘holy smokes,’” Lombardi noted. “But wait a minute here. Maybe that’s a part of it, too. Maybe having that success with so many young players might’ve been a product here, that handling success can be as difficult as handling failure.”
“Let’s face it, we didn’t handle it,” Lombardi added. “Now we’ve got a marvelous opportunity with this group to learn from it and make us stronger. If we approach it like that, it could be an even stronger group. Only time will tell, and only your players will determine that.”
In any case, it is now apparent that the primary responsibility for leading this team back to the playoffs and beyond next season is going to fall primarily on the shoulders of the Kings’ best players, Doughty, Kopitar and Quick, who, as Lombardi said rather bluntly, are going to have very high expectations coming into the 2015-16 season. Those expectations start with their conditioning, and if that goes well, they could take over the dressing room, as Lombardi wants them to do.
“We shouldn’t have to [preach] that anymore,” Lombardi emphasized. “That’s kind of the way we look at this. The training wheels are off. It’s your show.”
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